dust vs dirt vs soil vs earth vs mud


Senior Member
Arabic- Egyptian

I'm trying to understand the differences between these four words with reference to the substance we see on the ground or in the air; I'm not interested in any other meaning.
I looked these words up and reached the following conclusion. I would really appreciate it if native speakers confirmed or denied my understanding.

1- Dust: is the dry powder that accumulates on furniture or in cupboards that are not cleaned properly. It can also be carried by wind.

2- Dirt: is the soil that plants grow in. It's damp or dry but not completely soaked in water. It has negative connotations and if it attaches to things, they are dirty by definition. "Dirt" can also refer to heaps of "almost-dry" mud in the street (it doesn't have to be a soil that plants grow in).

3- Mud: is wet and sticky dirt.

4-Soil/earth: They both mean the same thing; the layer which plants grow in. It can be wet right after irrigation, but it's also usually damp throughout the rest of the day. The two words have neutral connotations, unlike "dirt".

I would really be grateful if you address all the 4 points.

Thank you.
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  • Barque

    Senior Member
    You've got the idea, more or less.

    I don't have much to say on dust and mud.

    and earth mean more than "the layer which plants grow in". The outer crust of the earth is earth or soil.

    On number 2, "dirt" can mean either soil or anything that causes something to be dirty.

    Did you look for earlier threads? Here's one on dust and dirt. dust/dirt

    If you enter the words "soil" and "earth" in the search box, you'll find several threads on the topic. soil earth - WordReference.com Dictionary of English


    Senior Member
    Arabic- Egyptian
    Thank you.
    I checked these posts, and my post here is just an attempt to ascertain that I correctly understand the information I gathered from the posts. Sometimes, with so much information and opinions it's difficult o wrap your head around these slight differences in meaning.

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Re Dirt: I hear dirt used for garden soil in American shows. It’s much less common in the UK for us to say dirt for the soil that plants grow in.

    I don’t think dampness level is a big part of the definition when distinguishing between earth / dirt / soil.

    Dampness IS an issue between dust and mud.
    Dust is dry.
    Mud is very wet, ranging from a heavy clay to runny gloop.


    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    Re Dirt: I hear dirt used for garden soil in American shows. It’s much less common in the UK for us to say dirt for the soil that plants grow in.
    I agree. In BE, dirt is dirty, whereas in AE good garden dirt is desirable as long as it remains in the garden.

    In the UK people sometimes say "dog dirt" for what dogs often leave on the sidewalk (BE pavement). In AE it might be dog droppings, dog doo, dog poop, dig shit (the last is of course rather rude).
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